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Opening of the Africulture Centre in Izu, Japan

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

The Amamoto & Shiraishi Africulture Centre was opened on April 29, 2022, deep in the mountain area of Izu, Japan, with a view of Mount Fuji. The opening event consisted of "The Cosmos of Lilanga, Tokoudagba and Lewsey" exhibition, "George Lilanga's Shetani" lecture by professor emeritus Ishizuka, and "Manding Grio Concert" by Karamo Cissokho.

Purpose of Founding: Following Magiciens de la terre and Kenji Shiraishi

Of the Social Development Goals (SDGs) set forth by the United Nations, the 16th goal, "Peace and Justice for All," emphasizes inclusiveness, "leaving no one behind. I wondered if this was questioned under the context of art and music. In 1989, the "Magicien de la terre" exhibition was held at Centre Georges Pompidou, which was a groundbreaking international exhibition at the time, covering both Western and non-Western artists, including Cyprian Tokudagba, some works owned by the Centre, originally collected by Kenji Shiraishi (1946-2005). Even today, a dominant Western art centricity cannot be denied, and to attempt to correct the problem that "100 percent of exhibitions ignore 80 percent of the earth" more than three decades ago must have been an experiment. Considering the purpose of this exhibition, the Centre has set the mission to "Enhance Humanity through Art", with the Vision for "Diverse and Inclusive World where All Art can find a Place in the Sun". Another exhibition the "Africa Remix," which began in 2004 toured Paris, London, and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, where 80 artists from 25 countries were shown, including George Lilanga, whose works are also collected by the Centre. Our collection would not have realized without the Kenji Shiraishi African Collection. In memory of Kenji Shiraishi, who passed away so suddenly, for his dedication and passion for African art, film, and music, I would like to share a part of the message sent for the opening event from a leading figure in the London art community, Sir John Akomfrah.

Kenji Shiraishi was a great man, a pioneer and a visionary figure who foresaw the coming dawn of Africa's art and its culture. I will never forget the many wonderful conversations we had on Lilanga and Tingatinga, the many books he gave me on the subject, and his deeply held conviction that the magnificence of Africa's art forms will one day find their place in the sun.

As the only Japanese figure on the African cinema and Art scenes over many decades, Kenji Shiraishi was a trailblazer who taught us all something about the importance of being original, having principles and convictions. And following your dreams and passions."

Kenji Shiraishi and Youssou N'Dour (c) Kenji Shiraishi

Our Activities

◆ Exhibition of African art collection

The Kenji Shiraishi African Collection consists of about 1,000 works of art acquired by late Kenji Shiraishi (1946-2005). The collection covers the entire spectrum of African culture, not only contemporary African art, but also a wide range of three-dimensional art (masks, sculptures, crafts), textiles, and jewelries, as well as books, videos, and other materials. Of approximately 200 artworks acquired from the Shiraishi Collection, around 40 are on permanent display at the Centre, as well as a collection of African cultural books and documents, including those related to cinema, offering visitors to experience the soul of Africa, which radiates an aura that can only be felt through authentic works of art.

◆ Manding griot music performance

The griot is a group of historians mainly from West Africa, a hereditary musical group dedicated to royalty since before the Mali Empire (1226-1670). Their vast knowledge was valued by the kings, as they served as their advisors. The origin of the kora, one of the griot's instruments, is mysterious, and it is said to have been created by a god and a chosen man. Sound of kora produced by 21 strings is like that of a harp. The audience will enjoy the healing and soulful music played by the griot.

◆ Information sharing through Africulture Times/Collection, lectures, etc.

Africulture Times/Collection, published by the Centre, will provide News, Columns, Book of the Month, Art of the Month, Centre's activities, and introduction of the art collection. In addition, lectures on African culture will be planned and implemented.

The opening event consisted of the following.

The "Cosmos of Lilanga, Tokoudagba and Lewsey" exhibition

The opening event was held on April 29, 2022 in the mountain area of Izu, remote from modern life. A work on a beaten-copper canvas painted during a demonstration in Japan by George Lilanga surprisingly matched with the Japanese screens; Cyprien Tokoudagba's YNAN sits as a protector of the Centre; and Richard Lewsey's sculpture, Ghost, joined the party of African art works. The event was appreciated by the audience of 30 who visited the Amamoto & Shiraiahi Africulture Centre, some seeing the African art works for the first time.

Lilanga, Tokoudagba, Lewsey Courtesy R. Lewsey

George Lilanga's Shetani

The first half of the event was a lecture by Masahide Ishizuka, professor emeritus at Tokyo Denki University, on "George Lilanga's Shetani." From a philosophical perspective, he compared Shetani with yokai (Japan) and psyche (West). Shetani are "intermediate beings" between the human world and otherworldly creatures. Lilanga embodies Sartre's existentialism, "L'existence precede L'essence," in which images arise in dreams and are then depicted. Lilanga's shetani is the reality of the 'psyche', which the ancient Greek philosophers considered elusive, and he is truly a painter of genius. Kenji Shiraishi and George Lilanga, who died five days after Kenji passed away, were soul friends.

Painting demonstration by Lilanga (c) Kenji Shiraishi

Kora Griot Karamo Cissokho

The second half of the event was a kora performance by Mr. Karamo Cissokho from Senegal. It was during Ramadan in Islamic doctrine, especially on Friday, April 29, a Leilat el kadr (Night of power), when the Koran, was expressed. Karamo is Manding kora griot, whose family existed before the time of the Mali Empire. His uncle, Mr. Sanjour Sissokho, a leading Senegalese kora griot, has visited Japan twice. In 1983, Kenji Shiraishi also spoke in Dakar with D.T. Nianu, a historian of Sonjata the founder of the Mali Empire, and later interviewed Mr. Sanjour Sissokho. The griot is a historian, storyteller, poet and musician under the hereditary system. Harp-like healing sound was accompanied by songs of peace and love, which was a totally new experience for the audience. The griot is exceptional and is the pride of Africa's intangible cultural heritage.

Karamo and his kora; Courtesy of Karamo Cissokho

Last but not least

The opening event was enriched by African cuisine from Los Barbados in Shibuya and African flower arrangements (from my old friend Nana and Sophie Créaide Inc.)

I also like to thank Hapahapa Gallery, Fumiko Shiraishi and my family.


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